Gone, but not forgotten…
I can count on one hand the amount of conversations I’ve had with Ernie Pena over the years. In fact, most of our interactions consisted of a simple smile and a head nod. Still, the news of his sudden passing calls for some sort of acknowledgment, even if it’s from someone like me who may have only known him from a distance.
Scrolling down my Facebook timeline and seeing what different friends have to say about Ernie, the word that I see over and over again next to his name is “Community”, which says a lot about what he represented. He was the familiar face behind the camera, snapping away and capturing precious moments at various events in the LA/Southern California Filipino community. A lot of times, we tend to tune out that photographer or videographer. We don’t pay it any mind at the time, but after that amazing, empowering event is all said and done, what’s one of the first things we look for? It’s those photos and videos documenting our shared experiences.
When I’m old and gray, sitting on a rocking chair, and telling my grandkids how I used to be a rapper in a live hip hop band, there’s a good chance that the evidence I’ll use to prove my sanity will be photos that Ernie took during our performances, most notably at the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC).
As an organizer and member of the Community (however you choose to define that), I’m realizing more and more just how truly important it is to be a cultural worker and documentarian — whether it’s through music, photos, videos, painting, poetry, etc. It’s not about the critical acclaim or personal gain. It’s not just art for art’s sake. It’s about telling the stories of the People and so much more.
I send my thoughts and prayers out to Ernie’s family and friends. Again, since I didn’t know him personally, I hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries here, but I at least wanted to share the little I knew about him with the rest of the world, just as he’s done for so many of our folks. As someone else stated:
"Ernie, please make sure your photo archives are accessible by us here in the mortal world, because your photos captured Filipino American life in the past decade-plus, and should be preserved for posterity. When Fil-Ams of the future want to see what we looked like and were doing in the early 21st century, they’ll likely be looking at a photo that you took. Rest in peace and may God be with you, kaibigan."
My first exposure to the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (FPAC) was in 2005, and I’ve attended ever since. As an artist, this is always one of my favorite venues/events to perform at because it’s such a great community vibe. Back in our formative years, my hip hop group The Committee has been able to network with people that we’re still friends with to this day. But even when you take away the music element, I’ve still met some really cool people throughout the years. It’s a great feeling to walk through a sea of faces and bump into someone around every corner. I’m not saying it’s a popularity contest, but it’s more like, “Wow…I’m really a part of this Community. These are my folks.”
And speaking of folks, I have to give a shout out to all my peeps who rocked the stage this weekend: Shining Sons, Krystle Tugadi, and Rhythm Natives. On top of that, I finally got a chance to see Ruby Ibarra perform live. Damn, yo…that is one vicious MC!!! And of course, there was the Native Guns reunion. I’ll admit that my initial reaction wasn’t what I expected. I thought “ah…they always make the cameo appearances throughout each other’s sets, it’s nothing new.” But all of that went out the window once they started performing. It brought me back to ‘05 and ‘06 when I first got exposed to their music and showed me that you can be proud of being Filipino and still be dope behind the mic. It’s really hard to express how much of an influence they’ve had on my music, but Bambu probably said it best in his song Old Man Raps, “I’m a pioneer to all these Filipinos you hear / got a boost when the Native Guns’ music appeared.”
Ultimately though, the highlight of this weekend was being able to perform with the original members of The Committee again. I think since our band parted ways a couple years ago, I’ve always kind of held on to the hope that maybe we can get a new band going but after these last few weeks of practicing with the original members and sticking with a DJ, I’m truly ready to move on. Not to be too big headed about it, but we can confidently say that we killed it on Saturday!! It was a huge difference between that and the Tuesday Night Cafe set we did earlier in the week. Thanks to video footage and the raw, honest feedback from our friends, we were able to work out a lot of the kinks and had a much stronger set by the time we took the stage on Saturday.
Aside from the personal feelings we had about our performance, we had a lot of friends/fans who’ve seen us from the very beginning and said that it was one of our best shows. That really meant a lot coming from them, especially when you consider that we haven’t performed together in such a long time. But what got me most excited was the crowd reaction after we made a certain announcement (I’ll post the video soon). I can’t even front, it made me feel all giddy inside. haha!! To quote one James Todd Smith, “Don’t call it a comeback, [we’ve] been here for years…”
Oh and one last thing, I really need to give an extra special shout out to the event organizers and volunteers!! They were always available to answer any questions we had leading up to the event and even accommodated a last minute schedule change for us because one member had some unexpected plans that came up. Even though the performance schedule was already distributed to the artists and pretty much set for both days, they still asked around and got us switched from Sunday to Saturday. Our set wouldn’t have been the same if we were missing a member, so THANK YOU FilAm Arts!!